Hilton Metrotown workers will be returning to work after 391 days on the picket line after 98% of union members voted to ratify a new contract. Joshua Berson

After 391 days on picket line, Hilton Metrotown staff to return to work with new contract

A major point of contention in the labour dispute was 97 Hilton Metrotown staff who had been terminated last year.

By Srushti Gangdev | May 13, 2022 |5:00 am

After 391 days on the picket line, food and hospitality workers at the Hilton Metrotown hotel are returning to work.

The union that represents them, Unite Here! Local 40, says 98% of workers voted to ratify a new contract with hotel management on Wednesday.

“This was a long time coming for the Hilton Metrotown workers who have been fighting on the picket line for over a year, fighting to return to their jobs and ensure that everyone would be able to go back to good jobs and work at wages that would keep up with the living costs in the cities. I would say ‘overjoyed’ is an understatement,” said union representative Stephanie Fung in an interview.

“These workers have been through so much through this pandemic, and it was an emotional day [on Wednesday] just ratifying the contract by a 98% ‘yes’ vote. And realizing that they’re able to go back to their jobs and go back to doing what they do best—serving the guests.”

The workers first went on partial strike notice in February of 2021. Nearly 100 long-term workers were terminated around the same time, most of them working in housekeeping, food services, or at the front desk.

Then, the union says, the remaining workers were locked out of their jobs on April 15, 2021.

The hotel sent out its first statement on the labour dispute shortly after the one year anniversary of that date—claiming that the workers had never been locked out, and were free to return to their jobs at any time.

In the year since, the firing of the long-term staff had become a major point of contention within the dispute. The hotel acknowledged last month that those staff had been laid off long enough that their employment and seniority had expired—and while the hotel agreed about six months previously to bring them back to their jobs, the union said progress on other issues had stalled negotiations further.

This week, Fung called it a huge victory on the part of the bargaining committee that those 97 staff were recalled to their jobs without losing seniority or wages.

“I heard from workers that they weren’t going to back down, that they were going to commit to making sure that everyone would be able to return to their jobs—that no one should lose their jobs just because of the pandemic,” she said.

“For two days of mediation, it was a very, very long night, through Sunday and Monday. … And they’re very proud of being able to ensure that everyone was returned to their jobs. And not only that, but with wage increases, daily room cleaning, guaranteed for the housekeeping department.”

The union said the new contract also secures a special bonus, protection of union health and pension benefits, protections for gratuities, and stronger recall protections for the future.

While negotiations picked up in recent weeks, it was a long year for staff on the picket line of BC’s longest hotel lockout. Fung said the fact that a resolution had now been reached was a testament to the pressure that the workers had put on management by showing up every day outside the hotel.

Many politicians and major unions in BC had thrown their support behind the workers, in some cases pledging not to patronize Hilton Metrotown until the dispute had been resolved.

“I also think it’s just telling to show that workers really wanted to go back to their jobs, and the hotel had to respond to the situation,” she said.

“And I think at the end of the day, we can really see the power of workers coming together to speak out and who were united through this long struggle.”

Fung said the workers are emotional that their efforts have paid off, and that they’ll soon receive a call asking them to come back to work.

Over the past year, many Hilton Metrotown workers told the Beacon that they viewed their colleagues as part of their family. Many said that they were picketing not just for their own benefits, but for their coworkers as well.

“The sad part is, the majority of the ladies that are working there are single moms. They have smaller children. … They’re ladies from all races, all colours, who are supporting their families. It hit them very, very hard,” housekeeping supervisor Baljinder Kahlon told the Beacon last April.

Fung said the ratification of the new contract, which expires on May 31, 2025, sets a precedent for a positive path going forward between the union and hotel management.

“This was a long struggle, and it was a long time coming. But we’re glad that we were able to come to a very good resolution, and I look forward to working with the hotel in the future,” she said.

Hilton Metrotown did not respond to a request for comment.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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